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7 Replacements for Networking That Position You as a Thought Leader

I have been in a sales/business development position since I graduated from college. I was trained by my mentors to join multiple business networking groups and build mutually beneficial relationships that would generate referrals. But this old school method didn’t always equate to success. 

Content marketing created a new kind of lead generation that has proved to be more effective and efficient. It has also created an avenue for those in B2B like myself to position ourselves as thought leaders in our respective industries. Below are my experiences and tips to help you become more effective and generate better leads.   
Why Business Networking Sucks 
Business Networking is Time Consuming: 
As a sales person, time is my most valuable asset. In the past, a part of that time every week was spent trying to find and qualify prospects through networking. Each networking event took about two and a half hours to drive to the location, meet with my group and drive back. I used to attend several different ones every week, so the time adds up. 
If you have participated in networking groups you will know that effective relationships cannot be built solely by showing up to the meetings. As with any relationship, you have to invest a good amount of time and effort before you can reap significant benefits. Building trust requires meeting with your networking partners individually, relentlessly taking the opportunity to engage with them whenever possible. My networking routine involved meeting with about two individuals each week for lunch or happy hour, which was time consuming. All in all I usually ended up spending about seven to nine hours of networking each week. Sound familiar?
The Introduction Process is Flawed: 
I think we can all agree the best use of a sales person’s time is spent talking to decision makers that have needs that the sales person’s company can solve, that have an appropriate budget and that are ready to get started.
The chances of these perfect conditions occurring in a networking group is just about as rare as the stars aligning. As B2B service providers, our focus lies on mid-market companies (generally $5-20 million in revenue), and we are constantly trying to get a hold of or build a relationship with the head honchos—the decision-makers, the C-suite, and upper management players.
This is the very nature of our conundrum. First of all, these type of people rarely go to business networking events simply because of time constraints. I’m sure you have noticed a collection of sales people at these events instead of owners/executives. Owners and executives are too busy for networking. Secondly, gaining qualified introductions to these higher-ups of our appropriately sized target companies can be extremely challenging for the average business networker. On top of that, even with the great luck of receiving a good referral, the chances of these companies being in the market for the specific services we offer tend to be quite rare.  
Why Thought Leadership is Important
Despite these setbacks, business networking is not necessarily negative. There are a lot of positive benefits from actively networking with your fellow professionals. Business networking allowed me to build vital relationships that paved the way for easily positioning myself as a thought leader in my industry.
In a way, constant networking also strengthened my pitch and strategy. When my prospects viewed me as a thought leader, I found that they were more apt and willing to take my recommendations, in turn significantly increasing my chances of closing the sale.
Thought Leadership Through Content Creation
I have found that creating value-based content helps educate my prospects when they are in the decision-making process for my services. Moreover, this catapults my industry knowledge and brand to a much larger audience than traditional business networking. I have found that content creation is in fact more effective and less time consuming when it comes to generating leads. Try it out for yourself!
Here are 7 thought leadership replacements for your networking time:
  1. Outline 10 blog post topics/outlines & create a production schedule. When brainstorming blog topics think about the kind of questions your clients are concerned with when they are in the decision-making process for your services.
  2. Write a post. Now. What are you waiting for? Getting started and continuing to generate great content is hard. Make a schedule and stick to it.
  3. Craft a presentation. Your presentation can be given as a webinar. After the webinar have a meaningful next step and a way to generate sales leads. Be sure to have a plan to follow up.
  4. Create advanced content (e-books, whitepapers, etc.). Make sure your piece offers content of value to your prospects. Make it easily available through downloads and don’t forget to attach it to a landing page so that you can collect contact info.
  5. Produce a video training series. This can be as easy as a tip of the week that you put on your company’s blog.
  6. Write Industry Specific Case Studies. Your value is best demonstrated by showing how you were able to help previous clients. If you categorize by the industries you serve, it will allow others in those industries to see quantifiable proof that you can bring value to their situation.
  7. If you just have to get out, meet a client for happy hour. Pick their brain about how to improve your product/service. Market leaders never stop improving.  
I found inbound marketing works wonders for sales. It allowed me to become more effective with my time and close more sales than with traditional business networking. With networking alone, I was receiving no more than one or two leads a month—mostly non-ideal leads at that. I am now producing one or two leads per day with my inbound marketing activities. The majority of them are qualified opportunities and many of them become customers.
Needless to say, I have increased the ROI of my time and have become a more effective sales person. I challenge you to do the same.
This article was originally published by Adhere Creative
Published: December 31, 2013

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